Wednesday 24 January 2018

Whatever happened to table manners?

As Mary Berry admits to eating pizza with a knife and fork, Debora Roberston offers up some new, no nonsense, dining etiquette rules

Slice of the action: Donald Trump and Sarah Palin eat pizza with a knife and fork
Slice of the action: Donald Trump and Sarah Palin eat pizza with a knife and fork
Trouble brewing: David Tennant's character in Broadchurch heats up his tea in the microwave

The menace of working from home is that my life is not so much measured out in coffee spoons, but in half-drunk cups of cold tea scattered around the house in an erratic trail of distraction.

So you would think I might be sympathetic to David Tennant's character in last week's episode of Broadchurch, whose microwaving of a long-stewed cuppa quickly took on the doomsday moniker of "tea-mageddon" on social media as viewers were scandalised by this terrible treatment of the nation's favourite drink.

I'd never dream of microwaving my tea, in part because I don't own a microwave - but that's another snobbery for another day - but mostly because making tea represents the ideal "looking busy while doing nothing" activity.

To some, microwaving tea is the perfect representation of the debasement of the human spirit in the modern world. I find it less tiresome than the damp priggishness of those who will bore you about the correct temperature of water for brewing green tea, and who will snigger into their cups if your skills are wanting.

The internet equally went into meltdown after Mary Berry admitted in her new show that not only had she never ordered a takeaway pizza, but she also ate hers with a knife and fork. No, Mary, no. Grab a slice and save the washing-up. The same goes for chicken wings, and there's nothing wrong with gnawing on a lamb chop.

An obsession with the correct form or the deadly affectation of ostentatiously "good manners" is so wearisome: there are none more common than those who strive to be smart by sneering at others who fail to observe old etiquette rules.

Today, there are few rules for eating at home other than to avoid doing that which is actively revolting (slurping and eating with your mouth open) and that which causes discomfort to others (snatching the last roast potato). But apart from that, tuck in and relax because it's now fine to...

... lean in, because we're a long way from "All joints on the table will be carved". By all means, have your elbows on the table. So long as you're not slumped over like a troll, or elbows out like a chicken, it's fine. And, to be honest, we'd rather have your hands where we can see them. Just remember to bring your food to your mouth, not the other way round - we want to see your pretty face.

... mop up the last of the sauce with a piece of bread. Leaving something for Mr Manners is so prissily Hyacinth Bucket and quite against the No Waste ethos of our times. In fact, in selected company, in the privacy of your own home, feel free to lick the plate.

... eat with your hands because it has always been acceptable, chic even, to eat asparagus with your fingers. So why not less refined foods? There are few sights more ludicrous than someone eating a burger with a knife and fork. No elaborate licking of your fingers, though. We are not barbarians.

... eat soup the wrong way because no one cares if you eat (or, more correctly, drink) your soup by scooping the spoon away from you and then tipping it delicately into your mouth. That rule exists to prevent you from greedily shovelling soup and spilling it down your shirt, but so long as you're not slurping, crack on.

... take pictures of your food since it's now fine to photograph your food, so long as you're swift and discreet. No elaborate adjusting of lights, making people move stuff, holding up anyone else or standing on chairs. Don't be that tragic leftover from 2010.

But please continue to refrain from...

... the double dip when you think no one's watch-ing as you plunge that piece of bread or crudite into the dip for a second time. Everyone saw and they're all very disappointed, even those who'd happily kiss you on the mouth.

... putting a phone on the table. Most of us have done this from time to time, but unless you're expecting a call from the hospital to say they have a potentially viable organ, no, it's really not on.

...waiting for everyone before starting because if the host says start, then start. There are few things less jolly for the cook than seeing delicious, hot food go cold.

... adding seasoning without tasting. Yes, why not throw a gallon of ketchup on there while you're at it? Many restaurants persist with the cheffy affectation of leaving salt and pepper off the table. Unless your host is some kind of low-sodium maniac, they will be available, but do the home cook the courtesy of taste before reaching for the condiments.

... clearing the table until everyone's finished. Astonishingly, sometimes clueless hosts or over-eager guests believe that they're "helping" by clearing plates while some are still eating. Fine if the atmos that you're going for is office canteen, but usually there's nothing more certain to kill the mood.

Irish Independent

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